It is a hard thing to love an old house. In many ways it is not unlike caring for an elderly parent. The bond of love is being constantly tested by fatigue and expense that never diminishes.
It is a hard thing to leave an old house. Like facing the loss of an elderly parent, the inevitability of not being able to hold on longer can become manifest and undeniable.
I’ve been thinking about three sets of neighbors who’ve reluctantly decided that living in their grand old houses no longer makes sense for them. One neighbor has already moved and the other two families have purchased condominium homes that will free them from the unremitting demands of painting and gardening.
Giving up an old house is also part of the acknowledgement that one is moving toward a phase of one’s life marked by diminishing energy for maintenance projects, and perhaps a certain impatience in waiting to see those projects fulfilled.
The side of the scales that contain the weight of the pride and pleasure a homeowner takes in keeping windows spotless, paint pristine, and hedges and lawns in good order, begin to tilt in the direction of the physically taxing burden of keeping up with it all. One’s energy might be better conserved for other things, time with one’s spouse or children, travel, time to read more or walk farther along the river.
When a house loses its current owner it also loses something of its personality. If the residents are gregarious and generous with hospitality, their residences acquire the brightness of their spirits. When we walk by the home of someone we know and like or admire, its hard not to smile a little in passing. I’ve always thought empty houses seemed haunted not by the shades of their former occupants, but by the memory of them in the minds of their still living friends and family.
Houses, especially handsome old ones, are potent symbols of the most intimate of human relations, of the raising of families, of the passage of time, and as the physical repositories of the touchstones of people’s lives. We are lucky our neighborhood is blessed with attics and basements, they are vessels for the artifacts of memory, un-played-with toys, fading photographs in aging albums, surplus books, clothing from other times.
I’ve seen two moving vans in the neighborhood lately. One was being filled with fine furniture, boxes of books, things that mark a comfortable life that has reached some stage of maturity. A maturity that will continue elsewhere. The other van was being emptied. Less expensive furniture, and small bicycles with training wheels, evidence of a life not yet fulfilled.
We don’t really own houses - we just take care of them while they shelter us and our lives.
- Michael Guarino